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The CFFO Commentary: Have We Learned Anything From Agricultural History?

By Henry Stevens

February 18, 2011 

I’m a firm believer in paying attention to the lessons of history. With that in mind, I took great interest in some speeches from past CFFO leaders that our staff recently uncovered when searching through the organization’s archives. And it’s led me to ask, “Have we learned anything from history?”

One of the speeches was written by then Vice-President, Sid Sikkema, in 1986. Sikkema had attended a workshop entitled “The Globalization of the Farm Crisis” while on vacation in Europe. The workshop was attended by 15 representatives from global church related organizations. They examined rural ministry in the midst of hunger and abundance, trade conflicts, debt crisis and the threat to small land holders and family farmers.

At that time in history, there was a global farm crisis – caused by the overproduction of food in some parts of the world and devastating hunger in other parts. Trade conflicts had erupted and the victims of this war were family farmers in all countries. Not only were famers in developing countries driven out of business by the massive over production subsidies of Western governments, but the drive to the lowest possible prices also hurt family farmers in North America.

Sikkema observed that the agricultural crisis of that era was preceded by the financial crisis of the early 1980s. Agriculture faced a debt crisis as a result and here in Canada, we saw many penny actions. Sound familiar? Could this scenario play itself out again with today’s looming debt crisis?

According to Sikkema’s observations, there were two food strategies operating in the world of that day. One strategy had food self-sufficiency as its number one goal. The second strategy was complete free enterprise. The countries pursuing the former strategy tended to have experienced hunger, while the latter countries hadn’t and were seasoned exporters. Sikkema said that when the goal is efficiency over self-sufficiency people are taken out of the equation. 

Sikkema predicted there would be a massive exodus of family farmers globally, including here in North America, as a result of multilateral free trade worldwide. Under free trade, self-interest was noted as the priority. The steady flow of wealth and power into the hands of a few was said to be the end result. According to Sikkema, destroying family farmers all over the world for the sake of efficiency is unjust. He believed farmers should be colleagues, not competitors. 

Today, we continue that drive for efficiency, largely by taking on more debt, buying out our neighbours and seeking to export even more. This begs me to ask “Have we learned anything from history?” 


Henry Stevens is the President of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

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